Diane Jordan: Almost Famous – Page 8


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Diane entertaining on the Commodore Cruise LineAlthough her recording career wasn’t working out the way she had thought or hoped it would, Diane continued touring all the time. In 1977, she even brought her show to the high seas when she was booked to entertain aboard the Commodore Cruise Line. “In early 1977, I did my first of nine Country Cruises for Commodore. Johnny Paycheck (of Take This Job And Shove It fame) was the star on the first cruise. I remember we left from Miami and had been sailing for about an hour and a half, when we felt the ship turning around. A voice came over the PA telling everyone on-board that there had been a bomb scare and that we were sailing back to Miami to have the entire ship searched. Police dogs were brought on board as soon as we returned to port. They didn’t find a bomb, but they did sniff out Johnny Paycheck’s drugs! Johnny and his wife (and their baby) kept a very low profile for the remainder of the cruise. They never came to the dining room or to the deck. I can’t imagine them taking a cruise and then staying in their tiny cabin all week. The next year, the captain told me that he saw Johnny in the bar shortly before his show one night. It was the last night of the cruise and Johnny had shown no signs of bathing. The captain actually had to ask him to please take a shower before the show. Several years later, I was booked to do a show on a military base in Hawaii with Johnny. It would have been a dream trip for me, as I would have only had to work three days out of five. However, right before we were to leave for Hawaii, Paycheck shot a guy in a bar and was sent to prison. The man who booked us loved Johnny, and he wouldn’t accept a substitute for him. So, that killed it for the rest of us, too. I will never forgive Johnny Paycheck because, to this day, I still haven’t made it to Hawaii. (laughs) The popular country singer T.G. Sheppard was the star on the second Country Cruise I did for Commodore. After that, the cruise line figured out that all they needed was a good country show for their guests because the cruises were always sold out anyway.”

a 1978 photo of Diane during one of her many Country CruisesIn 1977, Diane’s friend, former Hank Williams sideman Hillous Buttrum, called her with the news that he had gotten her a guest spot in a country music feature film documentary titled That’s Country. “He said [excitedly], ‘I got you in a movie with Lorne Greene!’, recalls Diane. “Hillous knew the director and writer, Clark Da Prato, who was with Film House in Toronto, and he was helping him find the performers that Clark wanted for the film. That’s Country is a historic tribute to 25 years of country music. Lorne Greene narrated it and old footage of country stars from the 50s was used and integrated with those same performers performing live in 1977. It includes the only color feature-length footage ever taken of Jim Reeves. Ronny Robbins and I were in it as examples of the ‘new Nashville Sound.’ They let me choose the song I wanted to do when I got there, so I selected Mac Davis’s I Believe In Music. Lorne introduced me, saying, ‘Here’s Diane Jordan. She believes in music, and I believe in Diane.’ It was exciting to be in another feature film that was going to be shown all over the world, you know?

“We filmed my spot at night and no one had gotten clearance for the Mac Davis song ahead of time. When the publisher was called the next day, he told them that it would cost $8,000 to use the song in the movie. That was quite an exorbitant amount back then but it was already done and they liked it so well, that they agreed to pay it. To utilize it all they could, they used it in the film’s trailer, as well, so the theatergoers heard my voice again, as they were leaving the theater. In the film, Lorne Greene sang a song called Old Tin Cup, and there was talk of releasing that and my song, on a 45. But, as was usually the case with me, it was just talk.

“The night we filmed my performance, Larry, my brother Jim, who was visiting, and I got to hang out for hours with Lorne Greene. He was such a fun and down-to-earth person and we thoroughly enjoyed listening to his stories. I remember that he did not like Jerry Lewis. He told us that contrary to what people think, that Jerry Lewis is paid a million dollars to host the MDA telethon he does every year. [I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but that’s what Lorne said.]

“The world premiere for That’s Country was held at the Ogden Hyland Theater in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on September 15, 1977. Lorne and I were the only invited performers from the film. I had a terrible dilemma, however. I was booked on the Country Cruise with Johnny Paycheck for the same week. I was determined to do both, and somehow I did! I explained it to the booking agent and he worked it out with Commodore Cruise Line. The cruise left on Saturday, so the agent worked it out that I could perform on Monday night. Larry and I got off the ship in San Juan and flew from there to Halifax and Film House paid for our First Class tickets. It took us all day to get there and we had a suite waiting, with a lovely fruit basket and a bottle of wine to welcome us. At the premiere, Lorne Greene and I were called onstage and I was presented with a dozen roses. All the while, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is how my life is going to be from now on.’ Wrong again!

“Lorne, the producer, Henning Jacobsen, director Clark Da Prato and Larry and I were all invited to lunch at the mayor’s chambers, on the day of the premiere. Lorne had planned a tour of the island by limousine the next day, and invited Larry and I to join him. We were just sick that we had to decline, but Larry had to fly back to Nashville to leave town on a gig, and I had to fly to Ontario to do a show with Ronny Robbins.

That’s Country was released first in Canada. In March of 1978, a champagne premiere was held at the Capri Theater at Harding Mall, in Nashville. Larry and I attended it, and also drove to Atlanta to attend another premiere. There was a huge movie poster with an artist’s renderings of many of the performers’ faces. I’m right in the middle, next to Ray Price. At the premiere, we were standing next to the poster. A guy looked at the poster, and then at Larry and asked, ‘How does it feel to have your wife that close to Ray Price?’ Larry answered, ‘That’s as close as he’ll ever get!’

Diane went from film work straight back to touring and and appearing on the Ralph Emery Show, and in 1979, she  re-entered the studio to once again try to get her recording career off the ground. With producer Jack Gilmer in charge of the sessions funded by Paul Richey Productions, Diane cut the song Isn’t That Just Like Love (which was later recorded by Debby Boone on her 1981 WB album Savin’ It Up),and two other songs. “The other songs I cut for Richey Productions were Stay The Night and What’s A Little Love Between Friends. (I would also remix and redo my vocals on the last song in 1984, for another label.) Jack Gilmer had produced T.G. Sheppard’s first five albums, so he was certainly a capable producer. Unfortunately, I later found out that he was also a drunk…and a thief.

Promo Photo, 1978Promo Photo, 1981“I actually did two sessions for Paul Richey Productions but the first one was just experimenting with some songs, two of which were not mastered. I also did a session for a songwriter who was trying to find a backer. He found one in town and told me that the guy was super wealthy. I remember he said, ‘You don’t have to do anything with him, but just make him think it’s down the road.’ I said that I wouldn’t do that because sooner or later, it will get down to sex, if that’s what the guy wants, and I wasn’t willing to go that route. In my opinion, that’s a very dangerous game to play. I have never traded sex to further my music career…ever. So, the guy wound up calling it off and said that he’d get ‘the little girl who sings down at the Hall of Fame Lounge’ and that she’d be glad to do it. Nothing ever happened with her or the songwriter’s songs, that I know of, but I didn’t get the songs, either.

“When I did the sessions for Paul Ritchey Productions, Paul’s wife worked at the Richey’s office building and Jack Gilmer was hired as an engineer by the Richeys and he also ran the studio. In my opinion, I cut my absolute best record there. It was a beautiful ballad called Stay The Night and it had previously been recorded in 1978 by pop singer Jane Olivor. It’s my favorite song by far of all the songs I ever recorded. I would have bet my life on that one to be a hit. The night I put down my vocals, it was just Jack and me in the studio, with the lights down. After I sang it, I broke down, crying. I remember Jack said, ‘Diane, we just cut your first hit record.’ I believed it, too…with everything I had. But, of course, that wasn’t the case. I would never have that ‘hit record’.

promo photo....1978“After the session, Paul really thought we had something and took it to all the major labels. He had three labels interested but he was demanding too much money for me as I was an unproven artist. Paul had a promotion budget written into the contract, and none of the labels would sign it. By that time, his wife said that he couldn’t work with me anymore and that she didn’t ever want me in their offices again. Paul gave me the master tapes (which was nice of him), and that was the end of that production deal.”

Sadly, Diane would have to wait five long years for another record deal (her last, to date). In 1984, she signed with fledgling label Grand Prix Records in Memphis, a company that was owned by a man named Ed Dubaj. As she explains, “My closest friend Michelle had a friend named Sarah who had gone to work for a record label that had a lot of money. Ed Dubaj was negotiating with the same label to sign a young singer named Linda Nail. He managed Linda and was using Grand Prix as a stepping stone for her to get signed to a larger label. Danny White, a popular player for the Dallas Cowboys, was also on Grand Prix at the time. Anyway, Sarah gave me Ed’s phone number and suggested that I call him. He was very nice and said he would like to meet with me when he came to Nashville. We met and after we talked a while, Ed signed me to both a management contract and a record deal. We eventually cut the songs They’re Not Losing You, Home To Houston (earlier recorded with the title of Brooklyn by Alan Thicke’s ex-wife Gloria Loring, when she went by the name of Cody Jameson), Son Of A Preacher Man and Not Tonight, I’ve Got A Heartache. We also remixed What’s A Little Love Between Friends from the master tapes that Paul Richey gave me in 1999 and I redid the vocals on it. Ed took the advice of a promotion team he used, Wayne and Joanna Edwards, and released They’re Not Losing You as my debut single. In my opinion, that was a very poor choice and I wish they had chosen Son Of A Preacher Man instead— I really had high hopes for that song. When I met Joanna Edwards, I recall she was very unfriendly to me. After that, I knew they wouldn’t do anything to promote my record…and they didn’t.”

The song Son Of A Preacher Man had been a huge pop hit for Dusty Springfield in 1970, and in 1984, it had yet to be redone as a country single. “It was my idea to record the song,” says Diane. “Wayne Jackson, who was part of The Memphis Horns, had moved to Nashville to do session work, after his work in Memphis had dried up. Jack Gilmer and Wayne lived together, so Jack used him anytime he could. Wayne was also was in Marty Robbins’ band. When Jack told me that Wayne had played on Dusty Springfield’s hit record, I was really excited that he would be playing the horn parts on my record, too. In fact, I thought that was surely an omen that the record was going to be a hit all over again. I got to perform the song, live, on the syndicated TV show, That Nashville Music, but it wasn’t released as a single and so it didn’t become the hit record I had hoped it would be.

“Despite my lack of success there, Grand Prix Records did more for me than all my other record labels put together. I mean, I never had any promotion whatsoever until Grand Prix. They actually bought a half-page ad for me (in color) in Billboard magazine and sent out press releases on me, too. Ed Dubaj even got me booked on the St. Jude Telethon in Memphis. The label also paid for my photo session, which was a first for me. I had always paid for all the professional photos I’d had until then. Grand Prix also paid for a beautiful dress made especially for me by a Vegas seamstress (Loni Anderson had one just like it, in white). However, Joanna Edwards didn’t like the photo because it showed my cleavage.”

Larry (husband) and Diane, 1984 (taken at Fan Fair)Diane’s initial single for Grand Prix Records, They’re Not Losing You, was given the royal treatment by the label: it was pressed in gold vinyl. “Yeah, I had a gold single,” jokes Diane. “And it didn’t even chart. (laughs) The gold vinyl single was Ed Dubaj’s idea, just to get some attention. Colored singles weren’t very common back then. At one interview, he said, ‘When Diane’s record sells a million, we’re going to give her a black one.’ Later, Ed and one of his investors decided to go to London and Monte Carlo for a gambling trip and figured that they could take me to the country music festival at Wembley, and write off the trip. They said, ‘Bring some clothes if you want to go to Monte Carlo with us.’ So, I did, and it was a fabulous ten day trip that I’ll never forget.

“In 1984, music videos were still very new and Ed mentioned to Jack Gilmer that he would like to do one on me for They’re Not Losing You. Jack said that he had started a video company and that he could do it for us, so Ed agreed. Ed wrote a cute story line about a guy who was trying to get into my showcase in Printers Alley. We did the video but I didn’t have a VCR back then so I couldn’t play it. I didn’t know how bad the video quality was, but it turns out it was terrible. I went to Nebraska later that year for my 20 year class reunion. Ed arranged for me to tape an interview on a TV station in Lincoln, while I was there [and to bring along the video to show]. I was highly embarrassed when a guy came out of the control room and said that the station couldn’t play a clip from it because it was so distorted. Ed had paid Jack Gilmer several thousand dollars for a worthless piece of junk. TNN had sent a camera crew to my showcase, probably because Danny White’s name was also on the invitation and he and his wife were there. TNN put together a really nice piece and it was shown on Nashville Now when I was a guest on the show, along with Danny.

“Despite all the drama, Ed Dubaj really tried to do something for my career (and for Linda Nail, too). Sure, the label was a tax shelter, but Ed believed in us. Danny White didn’t want a singing career; he just wanted to make an album. Linda had an album out, too, but after Jack Gilmer got through fleecing Ed, the latter was through with the music business, and I didn’t get an album.

“Here’s more: Ed had recorded Linda and Danny in Memphis at Knox Phillips’ studio. (Knox is the brother of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips.) Knox cheated Ed so Ed wouldn’t record there anymore and that made Knox mad, so he got the IRS to investigate Ed. Though an attorney had set up the label as a tax shelter, apparently it wasn’t done exactly right, and Ed was sent to prison for two years. The IRS had a so-called ‘expert’ testify that Danny White’s album was ‘worthless’. And yet, when a football announcer held it up during a televised Dallas Cowboys game and talked about it, Ed got orders for 5,000 albums. The prosecutor was so rude to Linda Nail on the witness stand that she became hysterical and they had to call a recess. Of all the music business crooks there were (and are) in Nashville, Ed was the one who went to prison. I mean, there were tax shelter labels in Nashville back then that signed 30 singers to recording contracts. This is another reason that I will never serve jury duty. I don’t want any part of our corrupt legal system.”

“Ed had planned to release another record on me after They’re Not Losing You…,but when he got a call from the president of the Nashville Musicians Union asking him why he hadn’t paid the musicians, he decided he had really had it with the business. What had happened was that Jack Gilmer had submitted his budget for the recording session and Ed paid him the money, upfront. It was Jack’s responsibility, as producer, to pay the musicians, but he didn’t do it. I had asked Jack to use my friend, Randy Hauser, on drums, and he didn’t want to use him at first. Randy was a top session player and he worked all of Chet Atkins dates…he was excellent. Anyway, Jack was really rude to Randy at the session, but he did pay him because he knew that he would tell Larry and me if he was stiffed. Ed faxed the signed production agreement with Jack, and a copy of the canceled check to the president of the union, but he kept harassing Ed to pay the musicians. That was the last straw; Ed gave me the masters and said that he wanted nothing more to do with ‘the dishonest and cutthroat people in the music business’. I later tried to get Not Tonight… released on a small label in Ohio but the guy who was going to release it couldn’t even afford to have it mastered. When he talked about selling his RV to pay for putting out the record, I said I couldn’t let him do that, and so that was the end of it.”

Aside from some of the con men and sharks she came across, Diane professes to have mostly fond memories of her 40 years in the business. She says that among these are the many benefit shows she did in the 1980s, as part of a series of Celebrity Golf Tournaments that were held throughout the south and Midwest. Beginning in the early part of the decade and continuing right up to 1988, Diane participated in several of these shows, which supported various scholarship funds for the children of our country’s POWs and MIAs. “The first Celebrity Golf Tournament I did was held in 1983, in Atchison, Kansas. 1960s pop stars Ronnie Dove and Johnny Tillotson were two of the entertainers I worked with. I didn’t play golf in any of the tournaments, I just performed on the shows.

Fabian, Diane, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell....1987“In June 1986, I participated in The Diamonds Celebrity Golf Tournament, which was held in Hampton, Virginia. In addition to The Diamonds and me, singers Ronnie Dove, Johnny Tillotson, Dee Clark, Ace Cannon and Johnny Lee also performed on the show.” Diane recalls that former teenage heartthrobs Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell were working in the area at the time and agreed to do a walk-on during the tournament. “I was thrilled to get to meet these guys…especially Fabian! We posed for some photos afterwards and Frankie was holding a beer, which I thought was kind of out of character for him. After the show, most of the performers gathered in the Holiday Inn bar for drinks. Bobby Rydell and I sat at the same table and I actually got to tell him that in 1960 my high school classmates and I had made up a dance to his hit record, Sway. I told him that back then we didn’t even know what ‘marimba rhythms’ were, which were mentioned in one of the lines in the song. He laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it…neither did I.” (laughs) Bobby was a really nice guy and it was a lot of fun for me to get to hobnob with him and some of the other singers who were such big stars when I was in junior high school.”

In 1987, Diane sang at the POW-MIA Celebrity Golf Tournament, which was held in Columbus, Indiana. “I performed on that show with The Diamonds, Dee Clark, Ace Cannon, Ronnie Dove, Ray Peterson and Frankie Ford. Bill Bergie, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles, also participated in the tournament and did a walk-on during the show. He was greeted very warmly, too. Believe me, every crowd loves a pro football player.

Johnny Tillotson and Diane....1987“The following year, the tournament was held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Besides me, the performers this time were Ronnie Dove, Ray Peterson, Frankie Ford, Ace Cannon, Dennis Yost of the Classics IV, Billy J. Kramer, Johnny Tillotson and Carl Dobkins Jr. I remember that Johnny Tillotson got badly sunburned that year playing in the tournament, and he called my room to ask if I had something to put on it. We had gotten to know each other from past shows and he knew that I was into natural health cures, so I gave him some Vitamin E. It worked, too.

Diane with Tommy Sands 1989“In April of 1989, the tournament was held in Cherry Point, North Carolina. I recently looked up Cherry Point and found that it is a Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina. The other performers for that show were Tommy Sands, The Dixie Cups, Ronnie Dove, Johnny Cymbal, Tommy Cash, and Johnny Lee; with a walk-on, again, by Bill Bergie. I think we all stayed at a motel in nearby Havelock, and did the show on the air base. However, it’s been so long, it’s a bit fuzzy. I do remember that I was asked, on the spur of the moment, to sing the National Anthem at the show, because no one else wanted to sing it. I was a little nervous, but it went well. I was accompanied onstage by the Marine Corps Color Guard, who did a very dramatic routine around me while I sang.”

Diane also performed at four of the Whitey Herzog Golf Tournaments held near St. Louis, during the time that Whitey was manager of the Cardinals. “Those shows were great as I got to meet some of the ball players for the Cardinals, including Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith and the legendary Stan “The Man” Musial. A funny story: after I performed one year, I was given a baseball bat which Whitey Herzog had personally autographed for me. I had been dropped off at the St. Louis airport a couple of hours before my flight, and I was sitting there, sleepy-eyed, with the bat across my lap. A guy came walking by, stopped in front of me, and said, ‘I bet you just have to beat them off with a bat, don’t you?’ (laughs)  Ah, those were fun days.”

A photo of Diane from the mid 1980'sDiane participated in her second music video in August 1986; however, this time it wasn’t for one of her songs, but for Alabama’s record Touch Me When We’re Dancing (from their album The Touch). “I remember the experience well, “ says Diane, “because my parents were visiting me in Nashville for the last time. My father died the following January. I was called to audition for the part of a video production assistant. I really didn’t want to go because I had plans to have a little get-together with my family, but I went anyway.

“When I got to the audition, I immediately noticed that the room was full of girls. After a while, the man and the woman  conducting the auditions narrowed it down to five of us. The man said to the woman, ‘You decide’, and she answered, ‘No, you decide’. After the third time around, I finally spoke up and asked, ‘Should we all just close our eyes?’ The man said, ‘Hey, I like her sense of humor.’ So, I was in. (laughs)

“On the day of the shoot, we arrived at 11:30 for hair and makeup and didn’t get out until almost midnight. I was paid only $45, and I had spent $42 on the pair of light pink booties that I wore, which were a hot style at the time. It was worth it, though, when Randy Owen walked by and pinched my toe (my legs were crossed) and said, ‘Cute shoes.’  Alabama’s drummer, Mark Herndon, and I really hit it off, due to a common love of jokes. He would jump off the drum stool, come running over and say, ‘I thought of another one!’ Our dinner was catered and the food was really good. There were two young girls about 12, who played ‘groupies’ and their job was to giggle and to appear totally smitten with the Alabama boys. My job was to carry a clip board and look like an assistant. The second frame of the video shows a close up of me, looking pensive, and tapping a pencil to the tempo of the music. They had ratted my hair up pretty big and I remember Charlie Chase asking me, after he’d seen the video, if I had worn a wig. (laughs)

“At the end of the shoot, Alabama thanked us all and asked us to pose for a photo with them. I thought that was a really nice thing to do. The guitar player, Jeff Cook, insisted on carrying my tote bag to my car. He invited me to go with them to California the next day, but I declined. I came away from that job thinking that they were all really nice and down-to-earth guys.”

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